Lemon and rhubarb are a perfect pairing. It seems like it shouldn’t be, as both are so tart, but with a good helping of maple syrup (or honey, if you’re not vegan) they complement one another in much the same way that rhubarb and ginger do. Rhubarb can often be flat on its own and needs something a bit sharp.
I recently bought a big box of lemons from Crowdfarming (not sponsored) a company that links farmers to individuals across Europe to buy fruits, vegetables, and other product straight from the farmer. If you live in Europe I encourage you to take a look and consider getting some of your produce from them – you can always split it among friends and family.
It’s a lighter cake, reasonably appropriate for an afternoon snack or even breakfast, and a nice way to ring in rhubarb season. As it’s not hugely sweet, I like to top things off with a drizzle of honey before serving.
That being said, the fat content and sugar aren’t low because it’s a cake! It’s no company’s coming recipe, but it’s not oil-free/sugar-free/joy-free either. (It’s one thing to do that with chocolate, and quite another with rhubarb.)
- Spelt flour: use light spelt – see more below.
- Baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt
- Non-dairy milk: I use oat milk, but any lighter milk will work. Avoid canned coconut milk.
- Maple syrup: or honey if the cake doesn’t need to be fully vegan.
- Coconut oil: while I have tried this with liquid oils, it really benefits from an oil that’s solid at room temperature.
- Lemon zest and lemon juice
- Vanilla: extract, but powder or paste can be used.
- Rhubarb: the star! Try to choose the reddest rhubarb possible and use thinner stalks.
The recipe originally called for all whole spelt flour, but I found in making it again that I preferred with a sifted flour. If you want to have a more wholesome cake, you can use wholemeal flour instead. Of course it’s also possible to use regular wheat flour instead of spelt.
I haven’t tried to make this cake gluten free, but have shared a gluten-free rhubarb cake on Baked. That recipe uses eggs, though.
If you prefer, you can use a liquid oil in place of coconut oil (like avocado, grape seed, or a light olive oil) but it will change the texture of the cake. I don’t recommend subbing anything for the coconut oil unless you really have to. Since this is a really old recipe, I did make it with butter the first couple of times, years ago, so I can say that it works with butter too.
Tips and Notes
A spring-form pan is ideal, but a regular cake pan will be fine too. Mine is 18cm (7 in.) so a bit of a strange size, but a slightly larger or smaller one will work with a very slight variation in baking time.
You might want to make this at a different time of year, and it’s an excellent lemon cake as is, though the rhubarb topping is really what pushes it over the edge. Other fruits could be used to top – raspberries, blueberries, apricots – but those are different recipes altogether.
60ml (1/4 cup) of lemon juice is two good lemons for me. You might need a little more or less than that, but please measure to ensure accuracy.
The cake doesn’t freeze very well because the rhubarb gets a bit soggy when it thaws. You can still freeze it if you’d like, just note that the topping won’t be as nice as fresh.
More Rhubarb Recipes
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Lemon Rhubarb Cake
- 375 grams light spelt flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 300 ml non-dairy milk
- 180 ml maple syrup (or honey)
- Zest of two lemons
- 60 ml lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 120 grams coconut oil melted
- 3-4 stalks rhubarb about 2 cups, cut into 2cm (3/4 in.) pieces
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease a spring-form cake tin with coconut oil. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In another bowl, whisk the milk, maple syrup, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla until combined. Slowly pour in the melted coconut oil while whisking to incorporate.
- Pour the milk mixture into the large bowl with the flour mixture and gently whisk until just mixed. Do not over mix.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake form and shake gently to level the surface.
- Top the cake with the rhubarb in any pattern (or lack thereof) you like.
- Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake is quite golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. It will be a dark colour due to the maple syrup or honey.
- Cool the cake in the tin for 15 minutes before removing the sides and cooling fully on a rack before serving. It can be stored for 2-3 days in a sealed container, refrigerated if your house is very warm.
This was originally published in June 2015. It has been updated most recently as of June 2022 with improvements to the text.